Body heat scanners will help agents detect drugs and weapons at border crossings

Border Crime

New tech part of Department of Homeland Security's push toward less intrusive but more effective inspections

This screenshot from a Thruvision video shows the image from a body heat reader showing the actor in the middle concealing a weapon under his jacket.

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Border inspectors soon won’t have to depend on patdowns or canine officers to figure out if you’re carrying drugs, guns or other prohibited items in your clothing.

Instead, they’ll rely on corporal heat technology that will alert them to “dark areas” in the body where people could be concealing something illegal or dangerous while walking through ports of entry. Smugglers use a variety of tactics to conceal contraband, including strapping drugs to their bodies, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP),

The technology is being deployed at undisclosed border crossings from California to Texas as part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s non-intrusive inspection (NII) initiative, says the company that is supplying the devices.

“The way it works, we can see powders, plastics, liquids, gels and things that a metal detector cannot,” said Kevin Gramer, vice president of Virginia-based Thruvision Americas, which recently won a supply contract with CBP.

This screenshot from a Thruvision video shows the image from a body heat reader showing the actor in the middle concealing a weapon under his jacket.

The technology is “passive,” meaning it can read your body heat the way a camera lens detects light. There’s no harmful radiation and, unlike airport machines in which you must stand still and raise your hands, Thruvision’s devices can see the heat produced by your body as you walk. However, the images don’t reveal any private anatomical detail. What the officer sees is your body outline filled with light-green heat signatures and dark spots blocking the heat or even the outline of objects like guns or small packages.

Thruvision’s terahertz technology “solves the (privacy) challenges historically associated with airport body scanners,” Gramer said.

The machines are compact and mobile. They can be placed at ground, desk or ceiling level and have an optimal range of 25 feet for the most-commonly concealed objects and much more for larger objects like, say, a suicide vest or submachine gun.

“Our technology can screen up to 2,000 people per hour for items that can include everything from packets of drugs and bundles of cash to 3D printed guns, ceramic knives, or homemade explosives and suicide vests,” Gramer said. With that information instantly available, a port officer can make a quick decision on what to do next.

Since 2013, the federal government has increasingly turned to non-intrusive inspection technologies to detect contraband and to mitigate manpower shortages amid steady increases in the number of people and vehicles that enter the United States particularly from the Southern border.

In Fiscal Year 2019, for instance, CBP processed 410 million travelers and $2.7 trillion in imported merchandise. The agency said NII devices represent operational savings of $1 billion per year.

On any given day, up to one million people may move back and forth the U.S.-Mexico border. Here, pedestrians coming over from Mexico wait for inspection at a border crossing in Laredo, Texas. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

In testimony before a congressional subcommittee late last year, CBP El Paso Field Office Port Director Hector Mancha said the agency utilizes 320 large-scale NII systems and 311 handheld scanners. He said 75 additional handheld units would be deployed this year.

Visit the homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

El Paso Correspondent Latest Stories

More Julian Resendiz

South Texas Correspondent Latest Stories

More Sandra Sanchez

California Correspondent Latest Stories

More Salvador Rivera

Border Report Correspondents' Stories

Latest Stories

Washington D.C.

More Washington D.C.

Don't Miss


About Border Report

The mission of is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.